Meadows Museum hosts exhibit showcasing J.J. Audubon's predecessors and rivals

SHREVEPORT, LA — The extensive exhibition “Birds of the Enlightenment: Predecessors and Rivals of John James Audubon” is now showing at the Meadows Museum through January 31. The exhibition reveals that J.J. Audubon, known for crisp and accurate bird illustration, was influenced by centuries of naturalists before him, and then followed by artists who copied or competed with his monumental Birds of America (1827-1838; a rare set is at the R.W. Norton Art Gallery).

 Edwin Sheppard, "Green Heron, Nest, and Eggs," 1882
Edwin Sheppard, "Green Heron, Nest, and Eggs," 1882

The scholar and collector behind this comprehensive story of ornithological illustration is Dr. Thomas W. Puryear, Chancellor Professor Emeritus of Art History at the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth. “Birds of the Enlightenment” chronicles the discoveries by men and women of diverse vocational and artistic backgrounds, who became dedicated naturalists, shaping the scientific field we know today.

“Each publication has a story to tell about the thought processes of those on the introductory edge of modern science,” says Puryear. “The bright engravings and lithographs that accompanied the text have a lot to tell us about the juncture between art and the natural world.”

The exhibition’s 80 prints span centuries, beginning with a 1551 woodpecker woodcut from Conrad Gessner’s Historiae animalium (Histories of the Animals), the first scholarly attempt to describe every known animal.  The latest print is a 1919 chromolithograph depicting a jay by prolific painter-etcher Edward Julius Detmold, famous for his illustrations to Rudyard Kipling’s The Jungle Book.

“The prints here are very typical of what one would find in the marketplace of ideas and in bookstores in the 18th and 19th centuries,” explains Puryear. “The competition in the market prior to and following the appearance of the landmark prints of Audubon was a lively one. The desire to examine and collect the ordinary and familiar, as well as the oddities, the beautiful, the foreign and exotic was a popular notion in those years, and this exhibition re-creates that excitement for the museum guest.”

On Saturday, October 29 from 5-7 pm, the Meadows will host a free happy hour in conjunction with Centenary’s Homecoming. Puryear will speak about his collection of bird prints at 5:30 pm.

About the Meadows Museum of Art:

The Meadows Museum of Art is located on the campus of Centenary College of Louisiana at 2911 Centenary Boulevard in Shreveport, Louisiana. The Museum is free and open to the public Mondays from 9:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m., Tuesdays from 10:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m., Wednesdays from 9:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m., Thursdays from noon to 4:00 p.m., Fridays from 9:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m., and Sundays from noon to 4:00 p.m. The Museum is closed on Saturdays and during all school holidays. For more information or to schedule fieldtrips, call the Museum at 318.869.5040 or visit centenary.edu/meadows.